Founders Series: Juntao Zhu, Co-Founder & CEO of Hodlnaut

The founder series takes a deep dive into the journey of Antler portfolio company founders and sheds light on the space they are building in. This week, we spoke to Juntao Zhu, Co-Founder & CEO of Hodlnaut.

Hodlnaut is a platform that provides financial services to individual investors where they earn interest on their cryptocurrencies by lending it to margin traders, who would otherwise struggle to access crypto loans. Learn more at www.hodlnaut.com.

Tell us the story behind your name.

Juntao: Hodlnaut is a combination of “HODL” and “astronaut.” Hodl is a common slang in the cryptocurrency community. It depicts the act of holding the cryptocurrency rather than selling it.  It is a term derived from the misspelled word “hold”, which originated from a post in the popular Bitcoin forum, bitcointalk. The user meant to say “I am holding” which refers to the buy-and-hold strategies in the context of cryptocurrency investing, but misspelled. We like “astronaut” because it symbolizes and parallels the term “Bitcoin to the moon”, which refers to the spike of Bitcoin’s value and rate in the market. 

What attracted you to want to build in the crypto space?

Juntao: In 350 BCE, Aristotle defined sound money as being durable, transferable, divisible, scarce, recognizable, and mutually interchangeable. Bitcoin fulfills all of the above but currently still lacks adoption. Fundamentally, Bitcoin is a decentralized currency which means it’s not controlled by any government or centralized institution. 

Many are convinced that digital currency such as Bitcoin is the future and at Hodlnaut, we firmly believe in that premise. The currency facilitates a payment system where financial transactions have lower fees, faster processing rate, and are transparent to all through a decentralized public ledger in the blockchain.  I am incredibly excited to be able to build my company using Bitcoin and to help increase its adoption.

How is what you are doing in the crypto space different and why is it needed?

Juntao: Traditionally, Bitcoin holders will only be able to profit off-price increments from the asset. At the same time, they’re also looking for ways to improve the return on their assets while waiting for the value to appreciate. That’s why we came up with Hodlnaut. We want to help Bitcoin holders earn interest on their Bitcoin and unlock its full value and the opportunity costs of holding it.

This method is called “yield farming.” What makes us different from, let say, depositing your assets into decentralized finance is that we focus on the customer experience. As a centralized finance platform, we take care of everything and ensure users get the best return on their investment without any hassle. 

How did your background in the financial services industry at Credit Suisse benefit you in the ideation process for Hodlnaut? 

Juntao: Working within the derivatives and fixed income industry gave me an overview of products and services that exist within the traditional finance industry. Hodlnaut mirrors those best practices and brings them to the realm of crypto-assets.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing in the crypto market right now? 

Juntao: Institutions and billionaire investors are recognizing the value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Stablecoins such as USDT and USDC will continue to gain momentum amongst traders. Ethereum market capitalization will also increase looking at the Decentralized Finance (DeFi) market cap making up roughly 12% of total market value on the blockchain network and growing.

Can you share your co-founder story? 

Juntao: A mutual friend who used to mine Bitcoin introduced us back in 2018. At the time, Simon was on his sabbatical and looking for something to do. I am very passionate about Bitcoin and I had the idea and convinced Simon with the vision of Hodlnaut. 

After several meetings and conversations, we felt it was right to work together and build the Hodlnaut platform to help fellow Bitcoin holders get the most out of their assets. On top of that, we admired each other’s work ethic, ambition and drive, which helped greatly in kick-starting Hodlnaut to the right track.

What advice do you have for founders thinking about taking the plunge into entrepreneurship?

Juntao: If you have a vision that you very much believe in, it’s only normal that you will need to work hard to make it happen. When it comes to building a startup, there will be ups and downs throughout the process. At times, it may seem incredibly disheartening, but keep pushing through!

It’s always easier said than done and growing a startup is much harder than it looks. But keep up the perseverance because I promise there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. If you work hard and learn from your trials and errors, there’s a high chance that you will succeed in your entrepreneurial journey.

What have been some of the milestones Hodlnaut has achieved since its inception?

Juntao: We started in April 2019 - back then it was only me and Simon. We built the platform and worked hard to earn the trust of our early adopters. Gradually, we managed to grow our user base and today we’ve acquired over 2000 BTC from over 1000 users, supporting 5 different assets. 

Our team has grown as well. Today we’re a team of 8 - a tight-knit group of people passionate about building innovative products. We have a flat hierarchy in the office and focus more on getting things done instead of the usual 9-5 work routine. It’s definitely encouraging to see how the company has grown and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us.

What is the vision for Hodlnaut in 2021 and beyond? 

Juntao: To become the most trusted cryptocurrency platform in the space. We aim to provide financial services in the cryptocurrency space that are fair, hassle-free, and trustworthy. Our expected revenue (a combination of interest paid to users and profits) for this year is in the range of USD 10-20 million. We are looking forward to seeing this positive growth accelerate as cryptocurrencies receive more adoption from the general public. 

Our vision is to see cryptocurrencies gain more prominence in the financial world where digital tokens can be exchanged and managed easily. We want to take an active role in boosting the crypto ecosystem by creating products that are innovative, secure, and user-friendly. Hodlaut has exciting plans coming up in our roadmap 2021 such as tokens swap and mobile applications. Finally, we’re currently in the midst of getting our financial attestation done by Crowe and the results will be made known to investors and users once the process is completed.  

Juntao and Simon were part of the second Singapore cohort. They started Hodlnaut and first pitched about their company at Demo Day in July 2019.

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